C.W. Nevius, Chronicle Columnist
Published 4:00 am, Saturday, April 14, 2012
After the fatal accident at Castro and Market streets on March 29, city officials announced they will start “educating” bikers about the rules of the road.
The truly aggressive riders don’t need to be educated. They know that blowing through red lights and weaving through pedestrians is dangerous and illegal. They don’t care. If you doubt it, they’d be happy to flip you off when you complain.
Saying this makes some people nervous. Cars are a problem too, they remind us. This is a small minority of bikers, they say. Oblivious pedestrians play a part.
All true. But the aggro bikers still need to knock it off. They are hurting the bike movement, they’re endangering others, not to mention themselves, and they are acting like jerks.
“This is always going to be the case,” said Lea Militello, who oversees San Francisco police operations for the Municipal Transportation Agency. “There are going to be some who go to classes to be educated, and there are going to be those who are going to behave badly, whether on a bike, a car, or on foot.”
Not to be ignored is the fact that they are reinforcing the perception among angry residents that all bicyclists are entitled bullies. That’s not true, but it only takes one near-miss in the crosswalk to reinforce the stereotype.
Change of attitude
“There are some that really need to change their attitude,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who bikes regularly. “But of the thousands of cyclists I see on the road every day, most are not like that.”
However, this is a case where the minority continues to drive the discussion. There’s no point in rolling out numbers that show incidents aren’t that frequent when two pedestrians have been struck and killed by cyclists in the last nine months. Although we don’t know all the details, it seems clear that each involved high speed and a pedestrian legally in a crosswalk. In other words, both were preventable.
I have to say I’ve been impressed with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. There was a time when they came across as an edgy group of militants. As the organization has grown to some 12,000 members, it has become less strident.
“I think as the number of people bicycling has grown, we’ve become more mainstream, less polarizing,” says Leah Shahum, the coalition’s executive director. “I think we are having a more thoughtful conversation now on safety on the streets.”
The group issued a strong statement condemning “reckless behavior – whether on a bicycle or in a car. Those who put others in danger should be held accountable for their actions.”
Time to be accountable
Great. Now let’s start seeing some accountability.
One part of the new city plan does have potential. Hand-held computer citation devices are being rolled out for enforcement officers. Until they arrive, citations will be painstakingly typed into a data bank. The new units, expected to be in service in the next six months, will enter data immediately.
“The greatest thing about it is that it instantly tells us what we’re doing, where we’re doing it, and where the citations are occurring,” Militello said.
Want to hear a wild guess? I’ll bet that when an area of constant infractions is found, it is the same small number of people committing most of them.
“And that,” Militello says, “is where the enforcement piece comes in.”
Strong, strict enforcement on those crazy, reckless riders won’t solve all the problems, but it will cut them down considerably.
Because those bikers don’t need to be educated. They need to be stopped.
Many cyclists in urban areas have a few misconceptions that have become Gospel:
- The most dangerous place to ride a bike is on city streets. In fact, suburban streets (at least in the Chicagoland area) offer a higher mortality rate for cyclists.
- Real cyclists do not dress in Lycra and Spandex. In fact most of the monies contributed to organizations in aid of the creation of bicycle infrastructure comes from suburban riders. And as you might have guessed Lycra and Spandex and CF frames and even Mountain bikes are in great abundance in those places where “real cyclists” do not exist.
- Cyclists like to view themselves as having the greatest chance of death and injury while plying the streets of the city. In fact it would be pedestrians who experience a higher mortality rate from injury.
- You only need to search the ChainLink Forum to understand the depths of the aggressive nature of the relationship between pedestrians (i.e. joggers, walkers, wheelchair users) and cyclists. Many of the complaints hurled by cyclists at these folks has to do with them being forced to “slow down” and come to a stop when pedestrians are blocking the bike lane by standing in the crosswalk too long.